If you’re older and white, congratulations! Chances are you’ve already got Tuesday, August 8th’s “secret election” in your calendar. The problem is the rest of you don’t, and we’re here to make you feel guilty!
Back up. There’s an election this Tuesday?
Yes. If you live anywhere in the city outside of Ward 2, there is a Democratic primary election at your regular polling place on Tuesday, August 8th.
We still want you to vote in the general election on November 8th, because a couple of seats will be contested by Independent candidates. (We’ll remind you later this fall!) But the point is that in Wards 1, 3, 4, and 5, there are two very different Democrats vying to be one of your ward representatives on City Council, and whoever wins Tuesday’s primary is likely going to win the general election and will have a powerful voice in your daily life and future of Ann Arbor. What’s worrisome is that studies show that younger, more diverse, and more progressive voters don’t show up for these local races, particularly in odd years.
If you read no further, here’s the deal: 1) put Tuesday, August 8th in your calendar NOW, 2) read up on the candidates (links provided at the end), 3) vote between 7am and 8pm, and 4) post a selfie with your “I Voted” sticker!
There are never lines to vote in this election because turnout in odd-year City Council primaries is frequently less than 10%. Below are the actual results from an Ann Arbor City Council primary race in a typical ward in 2015. (We’ve removed the names because the candidates aren’t the point.)
Why is turnout so low?
Elections that don’t fall on the usual even-year schedule—and therefore don’t coincide with State or Congressional races—see dramatically lower turnout. Of course, low turnout is bad for democracy in general. But even more disturbing is how different the voters are in odd years and even years. Odd-year voters tend to be significantly older and less diverse. This can cause a disconnect between voters and the policies that affect them. As an example, the only non-Democrat on Ann Arbor’s City Council has been elected twice in an overwhelmingly Democratic ward, almost certainly because her seat is in the low-turnout, odd-year election cycle.
This has been noted as a root cause of strife in other communities. A Washington Post study of Ferguson, MO elections found that African-American voters were almost 3 times less likely to vote than Whites in odd-year municipal elections versus even-year national elections.
So why don’t we get rid of odd-year elections?
Here’s the good news: we did! After literally decades of debate, Ann Arbor voters finally decided to eliminate odd-year council election cycles last year. (We were supporters of the betterturnout.org advocacy group, so we’re super happy about this change.)
The bad news is that we’ve still got one more cycle to go before this takes effect, and half of all the council seats are up for grabs this year. If history repeats itself, this means that the 10% of voters who show up on Tuesday will decide the course of the city for the next three years. As the Ann Arbor Observer put it, “Odd-year elections gave small, passionate groups an outsize impact. This will be their last chance.”
This is exactly why it’s important to get a more representative group of voters to the polls on August 8th.
But I always vote in the November general election, even in odd years! Isn’t that enough?
It’s great that you vote in November! And you should this year too. But the fact is that for most City Council races, the primary is effectively the decisive election because the Democratic nominee typically wins the general election.
OK, so the primary is the actual “race.” But it’s just two Democrats competing against each other. So does the primary really matter after all, since a Democrat is going to win anyway?
We hear this question a lot! When candidates have “D”s next to their names, it is usually a good indicator of their values on state and national issues. But sometimes it has nothing to do with how they vote on important city issues. The pairs of Democrats squaring off in Tuesday’s primary have very different views on the future of the city and how it should be run.
Your city representatives create policies that affect residents every day: how roads get paved, how drinking water is monitored, how police do their jobs, whether new residents have reasonable housing choices, whether we have safe places to walk and bicycle, whether we support environmentally-friendly practices—the list goes on. While some Democrats may say they favor progressive causes, their voting records show otherwise. As recent examples, some Democrats currently on City Council have consistently voted against accepting federal money for upgrading our AMTRAK station, voted against making pedestrian infrastructure improvements, and even voted against merely accepting an affordable housing needs report, stating that it’s bad for government to “meddle in the free market.” This conservative voting bloc isn’t currently big enough to cause damage to progressive priorities, but everything could change in Tuesday’s election.
OK, I’m on board. What should I do?
Encourage your progressive friends and neighbors to vote! We are all frustrated about our state and federal leadership. If we can get just 5% of the progressives who vote in presidential elections but usually skip odd-year elections to show up at the polls on Tuesday, we can ensure a progressive landslide and have a real impact in our own community. When turnout is this low, the difference between winning and losing has come down to as few as 5 or 10 votes. Again, representatives elected in Tuesday’s primary will likely win the November general election and go on to serve 3-year terms. This can change the entire composition of Ann Arbor’s City Council.
If you want to know our personal opinion, we strongly agree with the opinions expressed by Mayor Taylor and the MGoBlog writers. The links are below. There is also excellent non-partisan information at annarborvotes.org and vote411.org, as well as an insightful article by the Observer here: http://annarborobserver.com/articles/the_end_of_independents_full_article.html
MGoBlog endorsements: http://mgoblog.com/content/ann-arbor-city-council-endorsements-part-i
Mayor Taylor’s endorsements: http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/1381223/237d1100db/ARCHIVE
If you don’t want to click around, here’s a handy map with a summary of the endorsements above.
Thanks for reading, and see you at the polls!